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After growing up in Germany, Sweden is a refreshing change

Stortorget, or Big Plaza, in Gamla Stan, the Old Town. (Annalena Stache/YJI)

STOCKHOLM – Shortly after I turned 18, I moved abroad like I always wanted to. I moved from a small town in Germany to Stockholm, the capital of Sweden. Of course, life in such a busy city differs from the small town life I was used to, but I have also noticed cultural differences.

When we think about Sweden, we might think of the band ABBA, the furniture store IKEA and Swedish meatballs. All of those things are definitely a part of the culture here. But there is so much more that I didn’t expect.

People in the Nordic countries are great at speaking English, even more so than people in the rest of Europe. This even includes older people, like the generations of my parents and grandparents. I am trying to learn Swedish, but it would be entirely possible to get by just with English.

A reason that people here are so used to English is probably that English movies and TV-shows are not dubbed here. They are always shown with Swedish subtitles, whereas in Germany the audio is replaced by German voice actors and the dialogue is translated so that you can hardly tell the movie wasn’t German from the beginning.

Another big difference is that Sweden seems so much more modern. In Germany, it is still normal that many restaurants do not accept card payments. Here, it is the opposite. Most people do not carry any cash in their wallets because there’s no need for it. Everything is paid for with cards or apps.

The view over Stockholm from Skinnarviksberget, showing City Hall. (Annalena Stache/YJI)

In regards to politics, Sweden also seems more modern and liberal. I’ve seen people online moving to Germany from the U.S. and being surprised at the benefits and free health insurance. In Sweden, all this seems even better.

Employees get a minimum of five weeks of paid holiday each year. In Germany, employees get four weeks per year and here, five are just the minimum. Children also get free lunches at school up until they graduate when they are 18 or 19 years old. School lunches are never a given in the German school system and if they are provided, the children’s guardians need to pay for them.

This is not to say that every single aspect of Sweden is better than Germany. I have found myself feeling homesick and missing my family and friends and certain foods. Although I have also discovered new foods here. Especially the vegetarian and vegan alternatives here are more common and taste better than the ones I have tried in Germany.

A view of the island Riddarholmen and City Hall to the left. (Annalena Stache/YJI)

The two countries are equals when it comes to a lot of things, including the free tuition fees at university. A lot of people would argue that Germany is more liberal when it comes to alcohol.

In Sweden, there is only one chain of stores that is allowed to sell alcoholic drinks and it is run by the government. One needs to be 20 years old to buy there and the stores are open way less than other shops and supermarkets. Unlike in Germany, not every restaurant and café can sell alcoholic beverages.

Drinks are cheaper in Germany and there are fewer regulations around them. But this also comes with a drinking culture that starts at a young age and is very normalized. So I think the Swedish way of regulating the consumption of alcohol is a good thing.

There is a stereotype that people in Scandinavia are rather cold and I would agree that they are less open than in the south of Europe. But everyone has been very kind and welcoming.

A view of the Old Town at left, the Royal Castle in the center and the parliament building at right. (Annalena Stache/YJI)

In society, it is also more generally accepted to be a part of the LGBTQ community.

Germany is not a homophobic country, but it is definitely seen as something special when someone does not identify as straight and cis-gender. It is common to come out, to have a conversation with family and friends to share this part of one’s identity. In Sweden, however, no one seems to think twice when a man mentions having a husband or a woman refers to another woman as her girlfriend.

The Swedish language has three singular third person pronouns. “Hon” and “han” translate to “she” and “he” and the neutral pronoun “hen” has been officially recognized since 2015 and translates to the English singular “they.” There is no official German equivalent to this. People have been experimenting with different neo-pronouns and ways to make the German language more inclusive, but it is still very gendered and I wish it would evolve more.

I have found Sweden to be a beautiful country when it comes to nature and architecture. Sweden has beaches, forests and a lot of islands as well as a nice climate. It gets colder in the winter than it does in Germany, but I see that as an advantage since I escaped the summer heatwave in Europe by moving here.

Despite homesickness, I am loving my time abroad.

Annalena Stache is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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